Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning to everybody. If you allow me, I will speak in Hungarian.
First of all, I’d like to wish Austria and the Czech Republic every success with their upcoming parliamentary elections. As regards our topic today, on behalf of Hungary I’d like to make clear our view that the European economy’s bonding agent is trust, and the entire European economy rests on the trust we have in each other. It is the nature of trust that it can only be gained through long, hard work and much perseverance, but it can be lost within seconds. This is particularly true here in Central Europe, where the former communist oppression heightened the people’s sense of freedom and justice. In regions that have been free from communism there are a great many matters that may seem straightforward, everyday and pragmatic, but which in our world are directly linked to our sense of justice. This is why Central Europe as a whole is sensitive to the issue of double standards in the quality of products, and has reacted in unison: when Central Europeans come up against double standards in the quality of products, they not only feel that their pockets are being picked, but also that their sense of justice is being defied. We aren’t asking for anything extraordinary. All we want is this: for products we take off the shelves to indeed be what they appear to be; for the ingredients to be as described on the labels; for a product to really come from the country stated on the label; and we want to be sure that if we buy a certain product in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, its contents are identical to the same product on the shelves in any other European country. In contrast to this, what is the actual situation now? According to comparative tests conducted in Hungary this spring, the facts show that in 70 per cent of cases, when we compare a food industry product on sale in a Hungarian store with its direct counterpart on sale in the West, there is a disparity in quality. We also examined seasonal produce. The tests carried out on these showed that there are double standards in quality related to one third of this produce. This is depressing. The relevant suppliers are usually large international companies. The pettiness with which they cheat our countries’ consumers is simply depressing; but as the companies doing this are among the richest in Europe, it also reminds us politicians that wealth is not necessarily accompanied by generosity and fairness. I have also heard that this is not a specifically Hungarian issue, and not just a Central European issue, and clearly this is why Commission President Juncker mentioned it in his recent “State of the Union” address in the European Parliament. We welcome the idea that in Europe there must be no second-class consumers. The direction is good, and I like the sound of the words. It is now time for action from the Commission.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We’re pleased that the President of the Commission has also spoken out on this matter, because it shows that people in Brussels also appreciate that this is not only about trust in products, but also about trust in the entire European Union. Hungary is joining Slovakia and the Czech Republic in declaring that we cannot accept the use of double standards. I would also like to impress on the Honourable ambassadors that we are more suspicious than people in Western Europe. Obviously this also comes from the communist past: we tend to draw big conclusions from small signs. We also receive the impression that double standards in quality are, in fact, nothing less than the introduction of a two-speed Europe. Our view is that those two speeds could, in fact, also mean double standards; and if we see that there are double standards, and there is a two-speed Europe, we think Central Europeans will certainly be on the receiving end – as the simple issue of these products also demonstrates.
I would also like to tell those present here of a specific reason for our sensitivity. These countries – including Hungary – have great traditions in agriculture and the food industry. Over the past thirty years, however, we have been exposed to two major market shocks: the first in 1990, after the collapse of planned economies, when we became part of the bloodstream of world trade; and later, when we joined the EU. Both events resulted in the opening up of markets. Our countries, which have traditionally been famous for their high-quality food products, were compelled to engage in international competition, but without capital – communism meant that there was no capital. Our food industry companies, that were once famous for their high quality, were compelled to compete with large international companies – but did so without capital. It was no surprise at all that in a great many instances they lost out, with our traditional domestic products of high quality disappearing, to be replaced by the products of international companies. And in our countries today – in Hungary at any rate – we have the feeling that not only are we capable of making products which are better than those we can now buy in the shops, but also that those now in our shops are even worse than the same brands available to Western Europeans. There is in this a sense of historical injustice. We can’t turn back the clock, but these sensitivities can be taken into consideration, and therefore Central Europeans have every reason to demand that they should have access to food products of the same quality as Western Europeans.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finally I would like to tell you that in Budapest earlier the Visegrád Four adopted a position whereby we sought immediate legal remedy from the European Commission. In the future Hungary will continue to support the end of double standards in product quality. I would like to thank Prime Minister Robert Fico and Slovakia for having led the Visegrád countries in this struggle, and also the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic.
Thank you very much, Ladies and Gentlemen.